Oct 212014
 
Oct 212014
 

niko 1

New research out of Queen’s University offers a new approach to do just that. Nikolaus Troje (Psychology, Biology and School of Computing) along with clinical psychologists from the University of Hildesheim, Germany, have shown that walking in a happy or sad style actually affects our mood. Subjects who were prompted to walk in a more depressed style, with less arm movement and their shoulders rolled forward, experienced worse moods than those who were induced to walk in a happier style.

“It is not surprising that our mood, the way we feel, affects how we walk, but we wanted to see whether the way we move also affects how we feel,” says Dr. Troje.

Dr. Troje presented the participants of the study with a list of positive and negative words, such as “pretty,” “afraid” and “anxious” and then asked them to walk on a treadmill while the researchers measured and analyzed gait and posture in real time. While walking, participants were looking at a gauge whose reading depended on the result of this analysis – namely if their gait appeared to be rather happy or rather sad as indicated by features such as slump-shouldered (sad) or vertical bouncing (happy). Participants didn’t know what the gauge was measuring. They were simply asked to make the gauge deflect from the neutral position. Some had to try to move the gauge left, while others were told to move it right.

Both participant groups quickly learned the task. Afterward, they had to write down as many words as they could remember from the earlier list of positive and negative words. Those who had been walking in a depressed style remembered many more negative words. The difference in recall suggests that the depressed walking style actually created a more depressed mood.

“Clinically depressed patients are known to remember negative events,” says Dr. Troje, “particularly those about themselves, much more than positive life events. Remembering the bad can make them feel even worse. If we can break that self-perpetuating cycle, we might have a strong therapeutic tool to work with depressive patients.”

Source: Queens University

Oct 212014
 

FemininityIn a world of matinee idols and cover girls it’s easy to assume that humans want their men to be manly and their women womanly.

But a groundbreaking new study suggests that, rather than being a preference passed down through a long process of social and sexual selection, it’s a relatively new habit that has only emerged in modern, urbanised societies.

A team of psychologists, anthropologists and biologists, led by Brunel University London, surveyed 12 populations around the world, from the primitive to the highly developed.

Surprisingly, only in the most industrialised and urbanised environments did people hold the well-worn opinion that highly feminine women and highly masculine men are attractive.

Lecturer in psychology at Brunel University London, Andrew Clark, said: “We digitally morphed masculine and feminine faces from photographs of people to find out what choices people from small-scale societies made.

“We found that they didn’t place the same emphasis on ‘sex typicality’, that is, on highly feminine women and highly masculine men. In fact, they often favoured the neutral face, and sometimes the least “sex-typical” one.”

The team also found that the perception that masculine males appear aggressive increased with urbanisation.

A total of 962 participants were shown sets of three opposite-sex composite and digitally manipulated photos. For each set of photographs, representing five different ethnic groups, participants were asked which face was most attractive and which appeared most aggressive.

“This data challenges the theory that exaggerated sex-specific traits were important for social and sexual selection in ancestral environments,” added Dr Clark.

“Preferences for sex typical faces are a novel phenomenon of modern environments. It’s probably not a consistent thread in human history.”

The team suggest that highly developed environments with large, dense populations may have exposed individuals to a greater range of unfamiliar faces, providing the opportunity – and perhaps motive – to discover subtle relationships between facial traits and behaviour.

Source: Brunel University

Oct 212014
 

jealous man suspecting his woman is unfaithful and having secretWe can identify a surprising amount of information about each other from the briefest of glimpses – a process that psychologists call thin-slicing. In the latest study in this area, a group led by Nathaniel Lambert have explored whether we can watch a romantic couple interact and tell within minutes whether one of them is a cheat, according to this post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

Fifty-one student participants (35 women) in a relationship answered survey questions about their own infidelities toward their current partner. They and their partner were then filmed for three to five minutes performing a drawing task, in which one person is blindfolded and the other guides them as to what to draw.

Six trained coders (one man) later watched these clips and answered questions about whether the study participant in each couple had shown romantic interest in another person; flirted or made advances toward another person; or had sex with someone else. Answers to these questions were averaged to create an overall cheating verdict.

The coders’ cheating scores were correlated with the students’ self confessed levels of infidelity (the beta coefficient was .32; the researchers described the effect size as “moderate”). Further analysis showed this association was notsimply due to the coders judging the participants’ social dominance, nor to them simply rating the male participants as more unfaithful on average. The researchers checked these possibilities because past research has linked social dominance with infidelity and because men are more often unfaithful than women.

Lambert’s team think these results show we’ve evolved a radar for spotting cheaters, an ability they think will have helped our ancestors to thrive, given the “adverse consequences of infidelity”. But what were the coders looking out for when they watched the videos?

A second study with 43 more undergrads was similar but this time the researchers also asked the coders to rate the participants’ commitment and trustworthiness. Again, the coders’ judgements of infidelity correlated with the students’ own admissions of having been unfaithful. Moreover, the coders’ judgments of infidelity were mediated by their verdicts about trustworthiness and commitment, so they seemed to be using inferences about these traits to inform their detection of cheating.

“Many people are interested in forming meaningful long-term romantic relationships and our research indicates that people may be internally programmed to identify inclinations that could be devastating to their relationship,” the researchers said. “Specifically, objective coders identified cheaters, and thus individuals seeking a committed relationship may be well advised to listen to their intuition or at least think twice before committing to someone they suspect may be inclined to cheat.”

Unfortunately, as well as being restricted to students and dating relationships, this research leaves many questions unanswered. We’re given little information about the coders, nor the training they received. Also, although we’re told the coders’ cheating judgments correlated with the students’ self-reported infidelity scores more than you’d expect if the coders were just guessing, it’s not possible from the available data to establish the rate of false alarms – those times that the coders felt a participant was a cheater when in fact they were not. You can imagine real life accusations based on such false alarms could cause a lot of emotional damage. Finally, the study unfortunately tells us nothing about exactly what behavioural cues (such as body language and tone of voice) the coders were using to make their judgments about infidelity.

Oct 212014
 

photodune-3497109-happy-senior-couple-xsOlder individuals who are subliminally exposed to positive stereotypes about aging showed improved physical functioning that can last for several weeks, a new study led by the Yale School of Public Health has found.

Researchers used a novel intervention method to examine for the first time whether exposure to positive age stereotypes could weaken negative age stereotypes and their effects over time, and lead to healthier outcomes.

The study, to be published online in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science, consisted of 100 older individuals (average age 81 years) who live in the greater New Haven, Connecticut area. Some of the participants were subjected to positive age stereotypes on a computer screen that flashed words such as “spry” and “creative” at speeds that were too fast to allow for conscious awareness.

Individuals exposed to the positive messaging exhibited a range of psychological and physical improvements that were not found in control subjects. They benefited from improved physical function, such as physical balance, which continued for three weeks after the intervention ended. Also, during the same period, positive age stereotypes and positive self-perceptions of aging were strengthened, and negative age stereotypes and negative self-perceptions of aging were weakened.

“The challenge we had in this study was to enable the participants to overcome the negative age stereotypes which they acquire from society, as in everyday conversations and television comedies,” said lead researcher Becca Levy, associate professor and director of the Social and Behavioral Science Division. “The study’s successful outcome suggests the potential of directing subliminal processes toward the enhancement of physical function.”

While it has been previously shown by Levy that negative age stereotypes can weaken an older individual’s physical functioning, this is the first time that subliminal activation of positive age stereotypes was found to improve outcomes over time.

The study found that the intervention influenced physical function through a cascade of positive effects: It first strengthened the subjects’ positive age stereotypes, which then strengthened their positive self-perceptions, which then improved their physical function.

The study’s effect on physical function surpassed a previous study by others that involved a six-month-exercise intervention’s effect with participants of similar ages.

Source: Yale Universitry

Oct 192014
 

Intestines SketchOne of medicine’s greatest innovations in the 20th century was the development of antibiotics. It transformed our ability to combat disease. But medicine in the 21st century is rethinking its relationship with bacteria and concluding that, far from being uniformly bad for us, many of these organisms are actually essential for our health. writes Clio Korn, PhD student at University of Oxford, in The Conversation

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the human gut, where the microbiome – the collection of bacteria living in the gastrointestinal tract – plays a complex and critical role in the health of its host. The microbiome interacts with and influences organ systems throughout the body, including, as research is revealing, the brain. This discovery has led to a surge of interest in potential gut-based treatments for neuropsychiatric disorders and a new class of studies investigating how the gut and its microbiome affect both healthy and diseased brains.

The microbiome consists of a startlingly massive number of organisms. Nobody knows exactly how many or what type of microbes there might be in and on our bodies, but estimates suggest there may be anywhere from three to 100 times more bacteria in the gut than cells in the human body. The Human Microbiome Project, co-ordinated by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), seeks to create a comprehensive database of the bacteria residing throughout the gastrointestinal tract and to catalogue their properties.

The lives of the bacteria in our gut are intimately entwined with our immune, endocrine and nervous systems. The relationship goes both ways: the microbiome influences the function of these systems, which in turn alter the activity and composition of the bacterial community. We are starting to unravel this complexity and gain insight into how gut bacteria interface with the rest of the body and, in particular, how they affect the brain.

Unravelling the gut

The microbiome-immune system link is established early on. Over the first year of life, bacteria populate the gut, which is largely sterile at birth, and the developing immune system learns which bacteria to consider normal residents of the body and which to attack as invaders. This early learning sets the stage for later immune responses to fluctuations in the microbiome’s composition.

When a normally scarce strain becomes too abundant or a pathogenic species joins the community of gut bacteria, the resulting response by the immune system can have wide-reaching effects. Depression has been linked with elevated levels of such molecules in some individuals, suggesting that treatments that alter the composition of the microbiome could alleviate symptoms of this disorder.

Such an intervention could potentially be achieved using either prebiotics – substances that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria – or probiotics – live cultures of these bacteria. It is even possible that the microbiome could be manipulated by dietary changes.

In one experiment, researchers transplanted the human microbiome into germ-free mice (animals that have no gut bacteria) in order to study it in a controlled setting. They found that, simply by changing the carbohydrate and fat content of the mice’s food, they could alter basic cellular functions and gene expression in the microbiome.

Anxious mice

Depression is not the only psychiatric disorder in which the microbiome may play a role. Research in rodents, as well as a few preliminary studies in humans, indicate that the state of our resident microbes is tied to our anxiety levels.

Germ-free mice, for example, appear to be less anxious than normal mice on behavioural tests of anxiety, whereas mice infected with pathogenic bacteria behave more anxiously. Interestingly, there seems to be a window during development when the presence of a microbiome leads to normal levels of anxiety in adulthood: germ-free mice that were exposed to microbiome bacteria at three weeks of age subsequently behaved like normal mice, whereas those exposed at ten weeks of age continued to be less anxious than normal animals. Like the data on microbiome-immune interactions, these findings highlight the critical role gut bacteria play early in life.

This research also reveals the complexity of the relationship between the microbiome and psychological state. Although the general trend is that fewer bacteria mean lower anxiety levels, it is not just the number but the identity of the bacterial species that determine how gut dynamics interact with mental state.

For example, adding beneficial bacteria through probiotic treatment may reduce elevated anxiety levels caused by inflammation and infection. A key factor in this relationship is stress and the way the body responds to it.

Another brain

Researchers have shown that the presence or absence of microbes in young mice affects the sensitivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis – a key pathway in the body’s stress response system. The activity of the microbiome during development thus sways how we respond to future stressors and how much anxiety they cause us.

How do the bacteria in our gut wield such influence over our brains and bodies? The mechanisms of microbiome-host interactions appear to be as numerous and varied as the interactions themselves.

Gut microbes help break down food into its component parts, so the molecular building blocks available in the body depend in part on which bacteria are present to extract them. This can influence brain function by, for example, affecting the availability of molecules needed to make neurotransmitters.

Some gut bacteria can even alter neurotransmitter levels directly by converting glutamate – an excitatory transmitter – into GABA – an inhibitory brain chemical. And gut microbes, along with neighbouring intestinal cells, communicate with a branch of the nervous system called the enteric nervous system (ENS) whose neurons surround the entire gastrointestinal tract. This part of the nervous system is so sophisticated that many refer to it as the body’s second brain.

The study of microbiome-gut-brain interactions is still young, yet it is already spurring the development of new branches of medical research. At this rate, it is poised to become one of the most fascinating stories in neuroscience.

This story is published courtesy of The Conversation (under Creative Commons-Attribution/No derivatives).The Conversation

Oct 192014
 

Hayden-Monkey-article-photoRecent studies showed that the color red tends increase our attraction toward others, feelings of jealousy, and even reaction times. Now, new research shows that female monkeys also respond to the color red, suggesting that biology, rather than our culture, may play the fundamental role in our “red” reactions.

“Previous research shows that the color red in a mating context makes people more attractive, and in the fighting context makes people seem more threatening and angry,” explained Benjamin Y. Hayden, a coauthor of the study and professor in brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester.

Hayden, whose research often involves primates, and Andrew J. Elliot, a professor of psychology at Rochester who has published several articles on humans and the red effect and coauthor of the study, sought to uncover what causes humans’ response to the color. Is it triggered simply by repeated cultural exposures, or is there a biological basis that may help explain why the color tends to amplify human emotions?

As Hayden put it, “is this just because every year on Valentine’s Day we see these red things everywhere and it creates a link for us between the color red and romance, or is it really a fundamental thing rooted in our biology?”

One way to test for biological influence would be to assess reactions in individuals who have not been conditioned to associate the color red with romance, Hayden said. “What if we could test this in someone who is not even human, but was exposed to a lot of the same evolutionary pressures? Well, that would be a monkey,” he said. “So, we conducted experiments to see if monkeys would have similar biases as humans, and in a nutshell the answer is, yes, it seems like they do.”

The new study, which appears in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, involved rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) from a free-ranging population of approximately 1000 residing at the Cayo Santiago field site in Puerto Rico. The animals live in naturally formed social groups and are habituated to human observation.

The researchers conducted two trials that measured the amount of time the primates looked at black and white images of the hindquarters of adult monkeys. The stimuli, which included images of both sexes, were surrounded by an “extraneous” color, framed by either red or blue. The researchers also used an image of a common shell found on the island as a control data point.

Hayden noted that a standard measure to gauge interest in those who don’t have language—primates or babies, for example—is by how long they look at a given object. The longer the gaze indicates a greater amount of interest.

In the first trial, the researchers displayed sequential images of male hindquarters surrounded—in random order—by frames of red or blue, to adult monkeys of both sexes. They were also presented with the shell image.

The researchers found a significant female bias toward the images of male hindquarters, but only when a red frame surrounded the image. “To our knowledge,” the researchers said, “this is the first demonstration of an extraneous color effect in non-human primates.”

In a second trial, the researchers displayed images of female hindquarters surrounded, again by either a red or blue frame. Female monkeys did not show a preference for other female hindquarters, regardless of the color of the surrounding frame.

But, surprising to the researchers, male monkeys did not show a preference for the female hindquarters, either, even when surrounded by the color red.

The researchers say additional work is needed to understand why males did not respond to the extraneous colors. One possibility is that the reproductive state of females is reflected in facial color changes rather than changes in the hindquarters. Images of females, which were restricted to the hindquarter region, may have been too limited to elicit male responses.

That female rhesus monkeys’ interest in images of the opposite sex appears to be influenced by extraneous color suggests that the “red effect” is not unique to humans. Instead, the researchers argued, it appears to be supported by an “evolved biological mechanism.”

Neither males nor females displayed a bias toward the shell image regardless of the color of its frame.

Source: University of Rochester

Oct 192014
 

seasonalNew research shows that the season you are born has a significant impact on your risk of developing mood disorders. People born at certain times of year may have a greater chance of developing certain types of affective temperaments, which in turn can lead to mood disorders (affective disorders). This work is being presented at the European College of CNP Congress in Berlin.

Seasons of birth have traditionally been associated with certain personality traits, such as novelty seeking, and various folklore justifications, such as astrology, have sought to explain these associations. Now a group of researchers from Budapest, Hungary, are presenting a study which links birth season with temperament.

According to lead researcher, Assistant Professor Xenia Gonda:

“Biochemical studies have shown that the season in which you are born has an influence on certain monoamine neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, which is detectable even in adult life. This led us to believe that birth season may have a longer-lasting effect. Our work looked at over 400 subjects and matched their birth season to personality types in later life. Basically, it seems that when you are born may increase or decrease your chance of developing certain mood disorders”.

“We can’t yet say anything about the mechanisms involved. What we are now looking at is to see if there are genetic markers which are related to season of birth and mood disorder”.

The group found the following statistically significant trends:

  • cyclothymic temperament (characterized by rapid, frequent swings between sad and cheerful moods), is significantly higher in those born in the summer, in comparison with those born in the winter.
  • Hyperthymic temperament – a tendency to be excessively positive – were significantly higher in those born in spring and summer
  • Those born in the winter were significantly less prone to irritable temperament than those born at other times of the year.
  • Those born in autumn show a significantly lower tendency to depressive temperament than those born in winter.

Commenting for the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology, Professor Eduard Vieta (Barcelona) said: “Seasons affect our mood and behavior. Even the season at our birth may influence our subsequent risk for developing certain medical conditions, including some mental disorders. What’s new from this group of researchers is the influence of season at birth and temperament. Temperaments are not disorders but biologically-driven behavioral and emotional trends. Although both genetic and environmental factors are involved in one’s temperament, now we know that the season at birth plays a role too. And the finding of “high mood” tendency (hyperthymic temperament) for those born in summer is quite intriguing.”

Source: European College of Neuropsychopharmacology

 

Oct 192014
 

A thin ring inserted into the eye could soon offer a reading glasses-free remedy for presbyopia, the blurriness in near vision experienced by many people over the age of 40, according to a study released at AAO 2014, the 118th annual meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

A corneal inlay device currently undergoing clinical review in the United States improved near vision well enough for 80 percent of the participating patients to read a newspaper without disturbing far distance vision needed for daily activities like driving.

Presbyopia affects more than 1 billion people worldwide. As people age, the cornea becomes less flexible and bends in such a way that it becomes difficult to see up close. While the most common remedy is wearing reading glasses, a host of new corneal inlay products are in development to treat the condition, with three types currently under review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The theoretical advantage of using corneal inlays over wearing reading glasses is that corneal inlays prevent the need for constantly putting on and taking off glasses, depending on whether the person needs to see near or far.

One of the devices is the KAMRA inlay, a thin, flexible doughnut-shaped ring that measures 3.8 millimeters in diameter, with a 1.6 millimeter hole in the middle. When dropped into a small pocket in the cornea covering the front of the eye, the device acts like a camera aperture, adjusting the depth of field so that the viewer can see near and far. The procedure to insert the implant is relatively quick, lasting about 10 minutes, and requires only topical anesthesia.

To test the inlay’s efficacy, clinicians conducted a prospective non-randomized study of 507 patients between 45 and 60 years of age across the United States, Europe and Asia with presbyopia who were not nearsighted. The researchers implanted the ring in the patients and followed up with them over the course of three years. In 83 percent of eyes with the implant, the KAMRA corneal inlay allowed presbyopic patients to see with 20/40 vision or better over the three years. This is considered the standard for being able to read a newspaper or drive a vehicle without corrective lenses. On average, patients gained 2.9 lines on a reading chart. The researchers report that the results remained steady over a three-year period.

Complications from corneal inlays in general have included haziness that is treatable with steroids; however, improvements in inlay design have made the effect less common. If necessary, inlays can be removed, making it a reversible treatment, unlike other procedures such as LASIK for presbyopia.

“This is a solution that truly delivers near vision that transitions smoothly to far distance vision,” said John Vukich, M.D., author of the poster and a clinical adjunct professor in ophthalmology and vision sciences at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “Corneal inlays represent a great opportunity to improve vision with a safety net of removability.”

The device is sold in regions including Asia, Europe and South America, but is not yet approved by the FDA for use in the United States. There are two other types of corneal inlays, Raindrop Near Vision Inlay and Presbia Flexivue Microlens, also in development for the U.S. market.

Source: American Academy of Ophthalmology

Oct 192014
 

This shows a yoga class in the corpse pose and mindfulness meditation. Credit: Arlene Schmid, Ph.D., OTR

This shows a yoga class in the corpse pose and mindfulness meditation.
Credit: Arlene Schmid, Ph.D., OTR

Forty-seven older adults, three-quarters of whom were male, participated in the study. They were divided into three sections: One section engaged in twice-weekly group yoga for eight weeks; the second section met twice weekly for group yoga and was provided with a relaxation audio recording to use at least three times weekly; and the third section received usual medical care that included no rehabilitation.

The yoga classes, taught by a registered yoga therapist, included modified yoga postures, relaxation and meditation. Classes grew more challenging each week.

Improvement in balance was statistically significant and clinically meaningful. It was also greater than previously found by other post-stroke exercise trials. Study participants reported they increasingly attempted new activities in different, more challenging environments and, while aware of potential fall risk, grew confident in maintaining their balance.

“For patients, like those in our study, natural recovery and acute rehabilitation therapy typically ends after six or, less frequently, 12 months,” said Regenstrief Institute investigator Arlene Schmid, Ph.D., OTR, a rehabilitation research scientist with the Center of Excellence on Implementing Evidence-Based Practice at the Richard Roudebush VA Medical Center and assistant professor of occupational therapy at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, who led the study. “We found that yoga exercises significantly extended rehabilitation beyond the first year after stroke.”

Yoga may be more therapeutic than traditional exercise because the combination of postures, breathing and meditation may produce different effects than simple exercise, according to Dr. Schmid, who plans to further study the effectiveness of group yoga to improve balance, quality of life and participation in everyday activities. She notes that yoga’s mind-body connection may be what makes it more powerful and engaging than other strengthening exercise.

 

 

Source: Indiana University School of Medicine

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